Having just watched Redacted, the God-awful Brian De Palma film about how bad soldiers can get in war, it is refreshing to watch Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience. While not phenomenal, this Oscar-nominated documentary provides a unique and touching look at the human toll of the war, through the words of real soldiers.
Operation Homecoming is essentially an essay contest put to film; the movie is a concoction of various journal entries and stories written by U.S. soldiers in the Iraq war, along with a few interviews from those same men and women. Combined, the stories make a representation of what Iraq could be like for the average soldier. While the film certainly carries the opinion that every man or woman over there is affected in ways they can't imagine, Operation Homecoming doesn't seem to have an overt political message. Director Richard Robbins seems more concerned with relaying to the American people what life is like over there for our soldiers, and not so much as to whether they should be over there in the first place. The stories vary from life on base to gun battles to funerals and more, and the comprehensive collection provide a unique perspective on the war.
Some of the most interesting stories, of course, are those depicting battles or shootings. One soldier talks about setting his sights on a group of Iraqis, unsure as to whether they are insurgents or not. His commander tells him to shoot anything that moves, but he decides to fire a warning shot; the civilians scramble for safety. Still, the other stories carry weight, whether they're about funerals or even recreation time. They all serve to build a comprehensive view of what life is like for the average soldier.
While touching, the one issue with Operation Homecoming is that this isn't a documentary that is going to resonate in your memory. It's been a week since I've seen the film, and many of the stories told within have already abandoned me (hence my summary of one story and no others). It's one of those movies that you watch, say, "That was nice," and then never think about the movie again.
Operation Homecoming is a nice little documentary that depicts the Iraq war in a unique way. It's worth seeing, though it won't have a lasting impact on you.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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